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Bakgatla Bagammanaana (Part 11)

In our last episode the young Bangwaketse Kgosi Bathoen II had suffered a setback in October 1932 when he led a mophato into Moshupa in a vain attempt to impose his own overseer on the village.

Instead, his followers were surrounded, disarmed and returned to Kanye.

For the chairman of the subsequent colonial enquiry, Vivian “Maeba” Ellenberger, the issue at stake was thus the very survival of indirect rule. He argued that it was the paramount responsibility of the colonial state to uphold the authority of its chiefs over their subjects. After some hesitation, Rey agreed that “the troublesome wretch Bathoen” would indeed have to be supported. From his diary, dated March 27, 1933:

“Off at 7:30 in ‘Topsy” [Rey’s auto] for Kanye where I have to deal with that old villain Gobbleman! There was a huge gathering of Bangwaketse tribesmen, and several hundred Bakgatla had come in with Gobbleman from Moshupa. I made a long speech and told Gobbleman what I thought of him- that he was an obstinate foolish old man, that he had caused trouble for 30 years; and that he was no longer headman of the Bakgatla, that he was to leave Moshupa and come and live at Kanye, and that if he was not there in a week, I should send police and bring him in by force.

I appointed his son Kgabosetso as headman, and said if there was any further trouble, he would be dealt with drastically like the rebels at Serowe [backers of Gasetshware aSekgoma’s claims to Bangwato bogosi] who got seven- and eight-years hard labour...The old devil was absolutely unrepentant, and said he wasn’t going to come in, and if I wanted him, we could jolly well fetch him, or words to that effect.” 

On Saturday morning, April 8, Rey’s deputy, Capt. Reilly, accompanied by the new Kanye magistrate, Capt. Mangan, and 13 senior Protectorate Police officers and NCOs arrived in Moshupa to arrest Gobuamang. Outside the Kgotla, the armed police were surrounded by 700 BagaMmanaana, who poked them into submission with wooden knitting needles.

Rey was now feared the worst. He lacked enough men and arms to put down a full-scale rebellion by Gobuamang’s estimated 100 potentially armed men. He could ask the neighbouring South African and/or Southern Rhodesian governments for military support, but such a step would be a public confession of imperial weakness. Thus, in April 1933 Bechuanaland Resident Commissioner, Charles Rey appeared to be in a corner. Having seemingly pushed the BagaMmanaana into a state of insurrection, he soon realised that his police lacked the capacity to restore order.

Not one to compromise, Rey proposed to solve the dilemma by bombing Moshupa from the air. The more he thought about the idea the more convinced he was of its advantages. It would be inexpensive, put no European lives or property

at risk (conveniently Moshupa’s two resident traders were both Asians) and would not destroy permanent buildings as the village mostly consisted of “mud huts”.

He also believed the bombing would have a good moral effect on native opinion in general, observing:

“The lesson which would thus be taught to these people would, of course, have repercussions throughout the territory, an effect which is badly needed.... The destruction of the village of Moshupa is entirely in accord with native law and custom and one which was the normal consequence of disobedience of the order of a chief. It would be thoroughly understood and seen as just by natives generally.”

Rey’s proposal was endorsed by the High Commissioner in Pretoria, Sir Herbert Stanley, and forwarded to London. Meanwhile, Moshupa was sealed off and the airstrips at Mochudi and Gaborone’s Camp prepared to receive the Royal Air Force. But London rejected Rey’s plan. RAF bombings of African civilians had gone out of fashion during the 1920s following international outcries over incidents in Somalia and Namibia. Instead, Rey was authorised to seek armed support, including armoured vehicles, from Southern Rhodesia.

Wiser heads also emerged locally. Rey was approached by two Dutch Reformed Church Ministers, the Rev. Johan Reyneke of Mochudi, and Mr. J. C. Knoble, retired missionary turned trader in Molepolole, who offered to act as mediators. Rey was sceptical but allowed them to pass through police lines to the besieged BagaMmanaana.

At Moshupa, Gobuamang was eager to spare his village by surrendering himself. Over the objections of his people, he drove away in Knoble’s car, never to return.

After six months imprisonment in Gaborone gaol cell, which had previously housed the deposed Batawana Kgosi Sekgoma Letsholathebe, Gobuamang went to Molepolole, where he was given permission to settle with his followers at Thamaga. Throughout the second half of 1935 some 5,000 BagaMmanaana, about half the village, relocated from Moshupa to Thamaga. With his blessing his son, Kgabosetso, remained behind to rule at Moshupa.

When Gobuamang died in 1940 at the age of 95, Kgabosetso’s son Letlole succeeded him at Thamaga. Like his grandfather, Letlole was a strong ruler, most notably in the mid-1950s, when he was sentenced to imprisonment by Bakwena Kgosi Kgari aSechele II. Letlole appealed to the High Court, which overturned Kgari’s judgment. He served on the African Advisory, African, and Legislative Councils, before becoming a member of the House of Chiefs after independence. 

Thamaga dikgosi today trace descent through Kgabosetso’s senior wife Kgomotso aSewagodimo. In 1940, Letlole’s elder brother Diratsame refused to take the throne, but succession has now been restored through his son, Kgosi Gobuamang II.

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